Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced

From a young age, Jimi Hendrix had a fascination with music and sound—and a strong determination to master the secrets of both. From the moment he got his first guitar (which initially only had one string), he set about figuring out just how many different sounds he could get out of the instrument. As author Gillian G. Gaar exhibits in Hendrix: The Illustrated Story, throughout Jimi’s life, he never tired of picking up his guitar.

Jimi Hendrix circa 1967. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo
Jimi Hendrix circa 1967. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo

Are You Experienced might have been the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut, but it was a very different experience for listeners on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

It was only a difference of three songs. The UK version included “Red House,” “Can You See Me,” and “Remember,” while the US edition substituted “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” for those tracks. But consider the running order. In the UK, the album opened with the sensuous “Foxy Lady”; in the United States, the irresistibly catchy riff of “Purple Haze” more boldly set the stage for what was to follow (oddly, the US album also spelled the former song “Foxey Lady”). One reason for the varying track listings is that the UK labels tended to not place previously released singles on albums, feeling that the album then gave the buyer more value for money. Conversely, the US labels felt having singles on an album gave more incentive to buy it. And having all the UK singles on the US album helped make the American edition more robust. Are_You_Experienced_cover art_Jimi Hendrix Experience“Hey Joe” was a decidedly idiosyncratic choice for the Experience’s first single, though it had the advantage of emphasizing Hendrix’s blues roots (check out the deft guitar solo), which, in the UK at least, helped it straight into the Top 10, thanks to the British blues revival.“Purple Haze” is, quite simply, a classic—a perfect blending of rock and psychedelia that evokes the 1960s but is nonetheless timeless (and one of the few songs a rock fan can immediately identify by just hearing its first two notes). And “The Wind Cries Mary” showcases Hendrix’s sensitive side, featuring some fancy but subdued fingerwork—Hendrix wasn’t the kind of guitar master who felt that volume was mandatory to establish one’s skills. “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” performed indifferently on the US charts (“The Wind Cried Mary” was the B-side to “Purple Haze” in the United States), so the presence of all these songs on the US version established the breadth of Hendrix’s versatility in his native land.

For someone who had only recently begun playing original music, Hendrix proved to be a quick study (“Hey Joe” is the album’s sole cover song). “Foxy Lady,” almost as much of a signature song as “Purple Haze,” burns with confidence, with Hendrix’s fine vocal performance belying all his fears that he wasn’t a strong singer. Then compare that to “Fire,” a rollicking number that Hendrix sings with a teasing braggadocio while a taut instrumental backing ratchets up the energy. (Mitch Mitchell’s rapid fire drumming is especially impressive here.) There are some sweet songs that exude an unexpected calm, such as “May This Be Love,” but there are also songs of indecision and uncertainty concerning women, such as “Manic Depression” and “Love or Confusion.”

The strength of the band should also be mentioned. Hendrix had been playing with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell for less than a month when they first went into the studio to record. They quickly honed themselves into a tight unit, providing a powerful base from which Hendrix could operate—no matter how high he soared, they were always there to catch him. The record also benefitted from Chas Chandler’s firm control. He’d had very little money to pay for session time initially, meaning he pushed the group to work as expeditiously as possible.

Hendrix may have had more control over the production of his subsequent albums, but on Are You Experienced, his excesses were held in check, giving the record a freshness and immediacy not as evident in his later work. And an early clue to his future excesses comes on “Third Stone from the Sun,” the album’s longest number (running over six and a half minutes), a meandering track with space-age lyrics best remembered for their proclamation about the death of surf music. It’s the album’s least satisfying track. But there are plenty of other compensations, such as the title song, another fuzzy slice of psychedelia (with a guitar solo to match), and its lyrical double meaning: in the fade out, Hendrix jokingly assures that “experienced” doesn’t mean “stoned.”

When Experience Hendrix reissued the album in 1997, the CD included all tracks from the US and UK editions, along with the UK B-sides “Stone Free,” “51st Anniversary,” and “Highway Chile.” “Stone Free” is especially interesting, as it was the first original song Hendrix recorded (released as the B-side to “Hey Joe” in the UK). It’s one of his wittiest and most playful numbers, in which he forswears any kind of attachment to a woman who might “keep me in a plastic cage,” preferring instead his freewheeling life on the road, which gives him the chance to move on “before I get caught.”

There’s another odd quirk on the US CD: the version of “Red House” is not the one from the original UK album but a different version originally used on the US Smash Hits compilation. The original UK album version now appears on Hendrix: Blues (1994). Are You Experienced was the album with which Jimi Hendrix staked his claim as a major rock artist. And it changed everything about how the guitar could be played, breaking the rules to show there was no limit to the instrument’s possibilities. It’s a lesson aspiring musicians benefit from to this very day.

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Coinciding with what would have been Jimi Hendrix’s 75th year on this mortal coil, Hendrix (incredibly) is the first full-blown illustrated gift book exploring the life and career of the man most consider the greatest rock guitarist of all time.
Hendrix enjoyed the international limelight for less than four years, but his innovative and imaginative interpretations of blues and rock continue to inspire guitarists and music lovers across ages and genre.
Inside, Seattle-based music journalist Gillian Gaar examines the guitarist’s upbringing, his service as an Army paratrooper, his role as a sideman on the chitlin’ circuit, his exile in the UK, and his eventual reemergence in the US and the fame that followed until his untimely death in 1970.
Featuring design as lavish as Hendrix’s music and carefully curated photography, posters, picture sleeves, and other assorted memorabilia, this is the ultimate Hendrix book experience.

Gillian G. Gaar has written for numerous publications, including Mojo, Rolling Stone, and Goldmine. Her previous books include She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & RollEntertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana, Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, and The Doors: The Complete Illustrated History, and Boss: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band — The Illustrated History. She lives in Seattle.